Thoughts on death

A dear friend of mine has very recently passed away at the age of 65 after a long battle with cancer. Today I heard that Rick Wright, the Pink Floyd keyboard player, has also just died of cancer. Both of these people made many positive contributions to the lives of others, one can’t help feeling they moved on a little prematurely.

Working in nursing and care work for over ten years, death and dying has never been far away and I’ve been the first person to find a recently deceased individual on several occasions. If they are lucky, they go peacefully in bed. On one occasion I found a man sat upright in a chair in a dignified fashion, having announced just a few hours earlier that he’d “had enough of this”. On another occasion I discovered one elderly lady in a not so dignified situation – on the toilet. Dealing with these situations is not always easy.

QuestionMarkA few months ago I helped a Filipino nurse wash and generally clear up the body of a lady who had just passed away on a general ward in a Sussex hospital. She died with her loving family (well they seemed to be, you never know, funny things families…) all around her, a pretty good way to go I think. I had never met the nurse before, and we found ourselves immediately discussing the most profound questions about life and what exactly makes us human. Although I have a long-standing passionate interest in all things “spiritual”, my experience of these situations has not made me any clearer as to whether I believe there is some form of life after death, or whether death is a full stop, so to speak. The person’s life energy has obviously gone somewhere in some form, but this energy might just dissipate back into the general energy of the universe? Or there might be a soul that travels on, as many accounts of near-death experiences suggest. I have no idea whatsoever!

What I do know is that we don’t seem to be very good at dealing with death and dying in our culture. Odd really, when it’s one of the few certainties of life, perhaps the only certainty of life. Many years ago, a chapter in an Aldous Huxley novel (I think it was called “Island”) made a big impression on me. In it, schoolchildren were taken to visit the dying, including members of their own family, as part of their general education. Death was completely accepted and embraced as part of the human experience. Love and peace to all who have passed away, especially my friend Jayne.

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